Culture and Organizations

purpose: To explain what culture means to me and how culture is defined in organizations, and ways culture manifests itself in missions and values.

What Culture Means

Culture is a nebulous word. When I think about the word culture, my mind jumps to the different facets of how people live, which continue to fascinate me and is the purpose of my travels. It’s human nature to want to understand others; to make a comparative analysis of me, us, and them.

I am fiercely curious about the cognitive beliefs of values and the organic emergences of modi operandi; and on a deeper sentiment, what collective human desires and needs are fulfilled, and how this translates to what it means to be human. With each modus operandi, the result is the procedural manifestation of the culture from artifacts, rituals, custom, and cuisines, etc.

Personally, I’m curious about the onset rationale and the underlying meanings, and less about the details of manifestation itself.

What they believe + why they believe = what they do and how they do it = CULTURE

believe -> do

Each group has a culture, an often fluid code of behavior. At the end of the day, culture is shaped by people and roots from their values. From countries to states, to cities, to organizations, to teams, to individuals, there is always a modus operandi in each setting. In understanding collective human needs, we can integrate the underpinnings of the understanding into more controllable settings, specifically to organizational settings.

Organization Culture

Airbnb CEO Brain Chesky said, “culture is a shared way of doing something with passion.” Human capital consultancy, Deloitte, defines an organization’s culture loosely as “the way things work around here”.

Again, what they believe + why they believe = what they do and how they do it = CULTURE

Let’s start with the ultimate why. For each organization, the underlying why is that every organization wants better performance, and for private organizations that mean stronger returns and better bottom line, and for public organizations it means more impact and press. The rationale here is the same: how to run an effective and efficient organization and how to optimize the performance of the people and processes governing the people.

What organizations believe and why they believe is the philosophy of each organization, and where the biggest distinctions lie. Organizational culture resonates from organizational values, which acts under the agency of organizational incentives. Values of an organization often reflect the philosophy of leaders on the code of conduct of its internal human capital, the mission of the company, and the external clients they serve. The standard of conduct the leaders uphold themselves, and as a result, hold employees accountable for, is the resulting culture of an organization.

What organizations do as a result can manifest in various ways. From benefits to rewards, to learning and development programs, to employee feedbacks, to how conflicts are resolved, to how long employees work, are all revolved around executive decisions. The how entails the processes and reinforcements that each organization instills in place in order to execute.

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CASE STUDIES:

Let’s take a look at the mission/vision and values of both private and public sector, organizations with both successful and less than optimal cultures. Most organizations have their mission or vision and values accessible via their website.

Private sector: Deloitte

What they believe:

The focus of Deloitte is on performance excellence. They value the perception of their excellence and integrity, the company also focuses on providing value-add to its clients. Internally, they care about the “borderless collegiality” and “multidimensional thinking”, to create a culture of collaboration.

Why they believe:

They believe integrity and operational excellence by providing value will satisfy and retain their clients, uphold their reputation, and in turn bring continuity of business. The commitment to each other across the world will connect business groups within Deloitte and diversity brings innovation, in turn will attract top talent to the organization.

Vision: We aspire to be the Standard of Excellence, the first choice of the most sought-after clients and talent.

Values:

  1. Integrity
  2. Outstanding value to markets & clients
  3. Commitment to each other
  4. Strength from cultural diversity

Private sector: Zappos

What they believe:

They believe in core values of creativity, originality, openness, honesty, positivity, community, efficiency, passion, humility, and fun. It places external clients as a priority.

Why they believe:

Creating excellent customer service increases customer retention. Change and agility in a fast moving environment are necessary in today’s competitive landscape. The principles of fun and weirdness allow employees to be their authentic selves at work. Creativity and open-mindedness can drive innovation and growth. Continuous learning and growth of the people lead to the continuous growth of the organization. Honesty and open communication lead to less operational roadblocks and unnecessary drama. A community is founded on trust and is necessary for people to flourish.

Vision: One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online. People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection. Zappos.com will be that online store.

Values:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Non-profit: Human Rights Watch

What they believe:

The organization believes in advancing the cause of human rights, and believe in commitment, non-influence from external parties, accuracy, and ethics.

Why they believe:

In non-profit where donations are a large sum of financial income, staying clear of external influences is important to carry out the original intent of impact driven work.

Mission: Human Rights Watch defends the rights of people worldwide. We scrupulously investigate abuses, expose the facts widely, and pressure those with power to respect rights and secure justice. Human Rights Watch is an independent, international organization that works as part of a vibrant movement to uphold human dignity and advance the cause of human rights for all.

Values:

  1. Committed to our mission of defending human rights world wide.
  2. Independent
  3. Factual, accurate, and ethical in our fact-finding.
  4. Actively focused on impact.
  5. Supportive of a diverse and vibrant international human rights movement and mutually beneficial partnerships.

Organizational values often depict the desirable end result, but do not clearly state the required action to achieve said result. As you can see from Deloitte’s values, they are ideals they seek to uphold, the end result of what they want to accomplish. However, if culture is supposed to capture the essence of how things operate, then describing the HOW is more important than the GOAL. It’s parallel in saying I want to be skinny, but not delineating what action steps you will take in order to achieve the weight loss.

In addition, leaders should decide whether the intended audience of an organization’s values are created for the leadership, the employees who are upholders of the values, or for an external audience. Values for leadership are core values that they will live by to make executive decisions. Values written for the employees will be focused on desirable action items, traits, and behaviors to uphold. Values written for the external audience are filled with promises and virtues extolling the company’s greatness, similar to a marketing campaign. In the examples listed, HRW’s values seem to be written for founders as reminders of their non-negotiable to the external, focusing on the organizations’ general directions. Deloitte’s values seem to market to both talent pools looking at the company as well as potential clients, in describing the ethics and client orientation, as well as the collaboration and diversity of their human capital. Zappos’ values do an excellent job listing the expected behavior of how the employee should behave in the organization.

In conclusion, let’s fuel an alignment of our understanding of human nature and needs to the actionable values of an organization.